By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2759

A Pandemic Poem rehashes a well-worn cliche

Issue 2759
Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage (Pic: Paul Hudson/creative commons)

Where did the world go? asks poet Simon Armitage in a ponderous voice.

It seems a bit incongruous now that everything is opening up again, even though it probably shouldn’t.

Still, it’s a reminder of how bizarre and disorienting the first lockdown was, when it felt like nothing would be the same again, but now feels a very long time ago.

“How did it feel? Like the world had taken a lifetime to open but only a weekend to close,” says Armitage.

It’s all illustrated with stock news reel of empty streets and headlines, adding to the somewhat apocalyptic sci-fi feel of the whole thing.

Between Armitage’s earnest musings, there are the voices of real people who remember lockdown. Naturally the BBC wants us to focus on the small business owners. Matthew, who lost his 200 year old family business, or Andy, a pub landlord who fed thousands of people in Preston for one penny per meal.

There are others. Comfort, an asylum seeker, describes how her mental health struggled during lockdown as she could no longer do voluntary work.

But throughout the whole thing there’s a grating focus on “community” and “resilience”.

Armitage even uses the line “Keep calm and carry on”—a tired reference, perhaps deliberately so.

It seems the programme wants to remind us of something else.

It’s the idea that the pandemic created a “national unity,” which the Tories so heavily relied on in the first months of lockdown.

We can do without all that again.

A Pandemic Poem: Where did the world go? Friday 18 June, 9pm, BBC1 and then on BBC iPlayer

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